Over the years that I’ve spent in gardens, I’ve come across all sorts of curious things – chocolate eggs, lost toys, hundreds of clay pipe stems, old bottles, fossils and oyster shells – but on a day in 2010 I made the oddest find to date. I was happily pruning a rambling rose that was trained against a lovely old Cotswold stone wall, when a flash of blue appeared amongst the foliage. The first thing that came to mind was a faded Hydrangea flower head, but there weren’t any Hydrangeas. Looking closer, I was astonished to find, hanging in the branches about 2m from the ground, a long-dead crayfish.
I admit that I’m not especially familiar with crayfish, wildlife on dry land has always been more my area of interest. I’ve watched them scurrying about the bottom of a shallow stream in the Lake District and I’ve been served them once, though I would rather not repeat that experience. A more fiddly and unrewarding meal I have seldom eaten. Crayfish haven’t been part of my life, so to come across one dangling in a rambling rose was a considerable surprise.
Back indoors, I set out upon the agreeable pursuit of looking things up and discovered that there is only one native crayfish in the UK, the freshwater white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), which is increasingly threatened by an invasive American type, the signal crayfish, Pacifastacus leniusculus. The signal crayfish eats everything in its path and damages river banks by digging deep burrows which cause the river banks to collapse. Crayfish need lively-flowing streams and rivers to live in and it happens that there is a lively-flowing river running through this town, the river Windrush. I then discovered that signal crayfish have been found in the Windrush and realised that many of the holes I’d seen in the banks are likely to have been dug by them. Comparing the shape, colour and markings of the claw of the crayfish I found to the one shown here, I concluded that it is a signal crayfish.
So how on earth did this crayfish get itself from the river, some 500m away at the closest, and into a rambling rose in a town garden? The only answer I could come up with is that it was caught in the river by a heron and then dropped as the bird flew over the garden. Did the heron simply lose its grip on the bony shell or was the crayfish putting up its last fight and struggling to break free from the heron’s beak, snapping its claws at the bird’s face? Or maybe another heron was trying to steal the first heron’s catch and the crayfish was dropped as they argued. I’ll never find out how it got into that rose, but it reminds me that the world is vast, that there are countless questions I’ll never even ask, let alone be able to answer. There’s no looking this one up, it will always be a puzzle, but a bit of mystery is a good thing.